Syria: “Inner-changes are impossible without an international support” (I) | Youssef Bazzi
Syria: “Inner-changes are impossible without an international support” (I) Print
Youssef Bazzi   
Syria: “Inner-changes are impossible without an international support” (I) | Youssef Bazzi - When did you decide to become “publicly” a politician in Syria?
I belong to a Damascene family with a long political and social history, who had an effect on national life since independence, in the era of President Shukri El Quatli and Fares El Khuri, when Syria knew a democratic parliament life.

I grew up with politics...with the stories of family members struggling to ensure peoples demands, whom for example, sold lands to support the revolution and the independence movement.

In that sense, I lived in a political family who played an influential role in the Syrian social life, until the emergence of the Baath party in 1963. This party brought nationalization, oppression, torture, “national guards”, and the black era of “martial laws” and “emergency state”. During that period, the family withdrew from political life, like every other citizen who suffered nationalization, jail, or exile. Since 1963, we live in an era of hatred against all politicians, businessmen, patriotic and cultural figures.

Anyway, I decided in 1985 to run for the parliament elections in Damascus. Family and friends tried to convince me otherwise because “this era doesn’t belong to the people”. But I had a different point of view. Driven by the bloom of youth, I thought that we should be working to “reform” as much as we can. I run for election as an independent candidate and won. I received the highest number of votes and became the youngest member in Damascus city council. That year, I started my political journey.

- What were the circumstances surrounding your election and then your duties as a member of the parliament?
In 1990, the Assad regime was facing a crisis and an international pressure. All members of parliament were assigned by the Baath party. In order to reduce pressures, Assad decided to raise the number of independent parliament members to 83 out of 250.

Under the slogan of “reform”, I ran for elections and won.

- How would you describe the work of the parliament and its relation with the ruling regime?
When the regime gave people a relative freedom to choose their representatives and the number of independent parliament members became reasonable, it tried to invest this image and the activities of the parliament as a proof of its guardianship for freedom. Foreign and European delegations were invited, for example, to attend our sessions. But, on the other hand, the parliament was closed to the media.

No doubt, that period witnessed courageous presentations and hopes in the ability to reform. But all that was rejected and oppressed. The president of the parliament was a vicious man, used to breaking the constitution, the internal law, and the procedure of voting.

- How and when did you begin to feel that you were an “opponent”, not only to the government performance, but to the whole regime?
I was a deputy for 3 sessions (10 years), but I spent half of the last one in jail. I was put in prison for 2 years, after a 5 years sentence. My seat in the parliament, and Riad Seif’seat, both representing the city of Damascus, were empty for 2 years.

- What were the transformations, the events, and the facts that made Maamun El Homsi, the independent reformative deputy, become an opponent to the regime, a political prisoner, and now an exiled?
During my 10 years as a deputy, I presented 300 documented interpositions. As one of the independent deputies, I tackled issues concerning corruption. I also emphasized the need to review written legislations, made to punish people rather than serve them.

We gained (the other independent deputies and I) the confidence of the people. We were truthful and we didn’t hesitate to declare issues that we believed in. But we also faced a vicious war by Abed el Qader Qaddura, the president of the parliament, and by the so-called “National Front”, or the Baath assigned deputies.

In 1990, there was an incident that made a turning point in my view toward that regime. Some citizens contacted me to complain about a rotten wheat cargo, waiting in Tartus port, on its way to enter the country. But, some of the port employees didn’t allow the shipment to enter the country. I went to Tartus, and examined the 4 billions S L worth shipment of rotten wheat, then took a sample. I brought the sample that day to the parliament session. When I tried to speak, the president of the parliament refused to give me that right, because I wasn’t “listed” as one of the speakers. Then, I showed the plastic bag containing the sample to the whole members of parliament and government, and said “this rotten wheat is in Tartus, and they want to let it enter the country to feed the Syrian people”. The council roared and I demanded to set up an investigation committee and to be one of its members.

Immediately after that session, I started receiving threats. Then a campaign of rumours were spread, and declarations were announced that the whole issue is just a plot planed by some merchants. At that stage, I sent a sample to the UK to be examined. An official report from the UK stated that the wheat was not fit to feed even o animals. While a private laboratory in Syria confirmed the validity of the wheat.

But the wheat entered, became flour then bread, and people ate it.

I realized then the magnitude of corruption and the difficulties to “reform”. But at the time, the common thought was that “President Hafez Al-Assad did not know of such things, or that he wouldn’t allow them to happen”.

Through many other experiences, it became clear to us, the independent deputies and I, that corruption didn’t have only one form, it was present in every single detail, covered with the loud voice of rhetoric.

In 1994, they falsified the results of the elections, and got rid of many independent deputies. Riad Seif and I, and few others overcame that falsification because we had a strong support from the people of Damascus, not to mention the watchful eye of foreign diplomacy.

Youssef Bazzi